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Wednesday, August 21, 2019
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FaceApp and the privacy issues we face

Wacky Tech

FACEAPP, an app developed by a company based in Russia, has been enjoying quite the attention this past week. After about two years in existence in both app stores, and already downloaded by millions of users, by some weird twist, it’s gone viral all of a sudden. And it’s virality is something to be concerned of, or not.

Many are saying that the app is siphoning off data more than it should be. Claims have been made that even if it doesn’t have full permissions to your entire photo album in iOS, it still uploads your photos to their cloud servers. That’s the claim. However, the founder and CEO of Guardian (the first real iOS firewall) has confirmed through their own tests that this full upload to remote servers is not happening.

I did a crude test on my own as well. I used one photo for a test and it’s also the same data spike from the app that registered on my Android phone’s data usage tracker for the app. Apart from that time I was applying a filter on one photo, there were no other data spikes that happened. In some manner, that’s a relief. At least we know it’s not really uploading your entire photo library in your phone. Sure, it does upload that photo you wanted to apply the filter on. But isn’t the whole point why you wanted that app in the first place?

Anyway, is FaceApp and other similar apps really the problem here or is this something of a symptom of a bigger concern for all of us?

I’d say FaceApp is just one of the many signs out there trying to tell us that we all need to be more careful of our online lives. As internet technologies become ubiquitous on a daily basis, the more that we are all required to give bits and pieces of our personal data to make things work “better” for us.

Take for example, recommendations made by Google Maps when you’re out and about “exploring.” It can’t “intelligently” recommend things to you if it doesn’t know anything about you, right? So, what do you do? You give up the information you have connected to your Google account -- your name, gender, browsing history, location and whatever else Google can use to make those smart recommendations. In fact, I’d even go as far as a king -- is there anything we can do to get those “recommendations” and yet not give up a shred of information about ourselves?

How about Facebook? We all trust Facebook, right? You and I can’t stop using it. Every single facet of our lives is there. Each time your pet dog completes a trick, it’s there. Every time you visit a restaurant and rave (or not) about it, it’s on Facebook. Facebook is an app in our smartphones. And when you and your kabarkadas start talking about having a vacay in Siargao in Facebook Messenger, your Facebook news feed slowly starts getting flooded with ads and sponsored post about Siargao. And then you start wondering how Facebook knew about it. It couldn’t be more obvious.

In the end, I think we’ve put so much stock into our digital lives that it’s given life and credence already to that adage -- if it’s not on Facebook, it’s not official. That, to me, is a clear indication of how much we value our online lives and that we have slowly resigned our truths into the digital cloud. And as more of our truths are being surrendered to the digital cloud and to whomever controls those clouds, we also hand over power and control over to the people behind it all. And as these people own more of our information via the privacy policies and end-user agreements that we hastily say yes to every time, the more that we lose control.

It’s mind boggling really.

PS. If you’re wondering about where I’ve read about the FaceApp issue, check on the links below:

https://www.wired.com/story/faceapp-privacy-backlash-facebook/

https://www.theverge.com/2019/7/17/20697771/faceapp-privacy-concerns-ios-android-old-age-filter-russia

https://techcrunch.com/2019/07/17/faceapp-responds-to-privacy-concerns/

https://www.cnet.com/news/faceapp-privacy-concerns/

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/07/faceapp-mess/594361/


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